WordPress, which I love, has a new feature that provides a writing prompt each day. One that caught my attention was “what makes someone unique?” The idea of individuality – ie uniqueness – gets right at the heart of what it means to be human. Sadly, there are times when our individuality sets us apart from the rest of society due to no fault of our own.
When do we learn in elementary school that the “other” is not OK? I’d love to think that things have changed since I was bullied in early elementary school due to my appearance, mostly height and weight, but I’m not that naive. I’ve watched in recent years as various school districts have tried to address the root of bullying with varying degrees of success. Unfortunately, it all starts at home. Children need to learn from a young age that we are all different. We all have different talents and ambitions, as well as strengths and weaknesses. All of us – all eight billion people on Earth – face challenges at different stages in life.
There are certain things that a person may experience in life that no one will fully understand unless they have been through it – or something similar. For example, unless you have lost a parent or a child, it is impossible to truly understand that level of grief. It is similar when dealing with infertility. Unless you are affected, it is impossible to imagine the depth to which it alters one’s life.
Aside from all that sets us apart from one another, including our challenges, there are interests. My interests are vastly different from that of my siblings or parents. I’m used to it, and over the years, I’ve developed those interests through various opportunities and friendships, both in real life and online.
If I had one wish for students today, it would be for them to have all the resources necessary to first find their interests and then have the ability and support to pursue them further. How many people have stopped doing something they enjoy simply because someone discouraged them, saying they had no talent? I see and hear about it all of the time. It saddens and sickens me. We should be encouraging healthy interests, as well as providing students outlets to develop them. For example, a student who enjoys art should be encouraged to pursue that interest as much as possible, even if there is no interest in making art a career.It comes down to expectations. At times, we focus so much on making ends meet that we need to make a life. We need to teach students that there is so much more to life than material things. It is more than OK to be yourself. You need to be your authentic self.
Just over twenty years ago, school changed forever – April 20th, 1999 to be exact. Prior to that date, school shootings simply did not happen – or at least not with the frequency they do now. I am old enough to remember life before Columbine. In fact, the spring of 1999 marked the last semester of my senior year of high school. In that pre-Columbine world, we did not have active shooter or lockdown drills. School doors were not always locked. In fact, even during my early high school years at the rural Michigan high school I attended, boys and girls who loved to hunt and had their own vehicles could lock their rifles in their trucks during deer season. It is not an exaggeration to say that I grew up and attended school in a different world.
This became frighteningly clear to me when I began substitute teaching several…
Below are my thoughts after one year teaching through the pandemic. As a writing exercise, we were asked as teachers what we had learned through the experience. In my opinion, two years later, it sill holds up and summarizes nicely how I felt and continue to feel. Originally published on the Saginaw Bay Writing Project (SBWP) website, you can find a link to the original piece below. I’ve only corrected minor errors here.
What did I learn about myself as a teacher over the past year? First, I clearly understood just how fragile our everyday lives are – students, teachers, and administrators alike. Most people seem to have underestimated the power of their daily routine, their “normal.” I certainly did. Second, I learned just how much I continue to not know. I am still learning how to teach effectively online. Finally, I learned how to focus on what truly matters.
As 2019-2020 was my first full-year teaching, I continue to feel robbed. Plans for March is Reading Month, field trips, and so much more – all gone. Memories with my first 6th grade class never made. The little things still haunt me. I am a big believer in class read-alouds, and when we shut down for the school year in March 2020, I was in the middle of the first Percy Jackson book: Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. My 6th graders adored the book, and I still regret the fact that I was unable to finish the book with them in-person – or continue the series.
If I still feel this way a year later, I can only imagine how my middle school students felt and continue to feel. There appears to be little to no concern regarding the impact prolonged shutdowns can have on emotional, social, and academic well-being. It just doesn’t seem to matter to anyone. Somewhere along the way, we lost our humanity. We, educators and students alike, are not alright.
As we entered the Lenten season this year, memories of last year came flooding back. On Friday, March 13th, 2020, as I participated in the Stations of the Cross with my students, we learned that we would not be coming back to school. Little did we know that we would not finish the year. The uncertainty, the miscommunication, and the worry will always stay with me. At the time, no one had any answers, only an endless list of questions.
During the lockdown, I worried about every single one of my students. Would they fall behind? How would they survive without seeing friends on a daily basis – or ever? I also learned what I didn’t know. No one taught me how to teach online. Yet, that is exactly what I did. I was not prepared last spring. When my class was quarantined this fall, I was still not fully prepared. Only now, in a virtual week built in after spring break, am I now beginning to feel as though I can somehow teach online. It took over a year.
I can’t imagine trying to navigate it all without faith. When I talk about faith, yes, I am referencing a higher power, but I am also referring to a general faith that everything will work out in the end. No matter where we are today as educators and students, there is hope for tomorrow. All hope is not lost. We can and should do better. We will. If given the choice between faith and fear, I choose faith.
I am a firm believer that everyone should have a creative outlet. It may take some time to find what works for you, but it is so worth it in the end. I discovered writing as my creative outlet at an early age, but then life got in the way, as it always does. I hope this time I can make time for what matters.
As I have spent the last several weeks as a substitute teacher in a 4th grade classroom, I’ve enjoyed seeing just how passionate kids are about their hobbies. I have budding writers, musicians, artists, and athletes in the classroom, not to mention scientists. We had the best discussions about the US space shuttle program, astronauts, and basic animal genetics. They are not afraid to ask great questions. After a science lesson on the effects of long-term exposure to zero gravity on astronauts, one student…
Sometimes I question whether or not Dad realizes what an example he set for his children – or at least me, as I can’t speak for my brother or sister. He, along with my mom, spent the last nearly 46 years owning and operating Russell Canoe Livery and Campgrounds, Inc. and are still actively involved in the business. They purchased the canoe livery from my paternal grandmother, Judy Reid, in June 1977, a few months prior to their wedding. Growing up in and with the business, I saw firsthand what my parents and grandparents did to grow the business, including the sacrifices they made.
As a child, whenever anyone asked what my dad did for a living, my response of “he owns a campground and canoe livery” fascinated many. As the canoe livery developed, Dad focused on creating a business that not only worked around our family life – it complimented my mom’s teaching career and our school schedules well. It also allowed him to pursue his hobbies of hunting and fishing in a way impossible for most people.
I admit it: I know more about hunting and fishing than any non-hunter, non-fisherwoman I know. All thanks to Dad. I grew up feeding Beagle hunting dogs used for rabbit hunting; with various mounts in our basement; and learning what a Pope and Young record meant, once my dad killed a Canadian black bear with a bow and arrow. That bear now infamously resides in our main office/store in Omer, a legend in his own right.
As a young child, when I asked Dad why he hunted deer, he took the time to give me the full, true explanation. At six years old, he explained how deer hunting helps control the deer population in Michigan. If they weren’t hunted, there would be many more car/deer accidents, and they could become over-populated, causing starvation and disease. I have never forgotten that lesson. Even though I am no hunter myself, I have no issue with it – as long as rules are followed and as much of the animal is used as possible.
What I admire most about my dad is how he was able to create a life for himself in which he prioritized what he wanted out of life – and it wasn’t money – it was about lifestyle. Even though he didn’t directly use his degree in wildlife biology in his career – he didn’t become a conservation officer – that knowledge allowed him to more fully understand what was needed to become a better hunter and fisherman. Dad’s passion for his hobbies, even today in his 70s, still inspires me.
What I’ve long realized is that I am just as passionate about reading and writing. He may not see it or recognize the correlation, but I do. It is the reason why I earned my writing certificate from Delta College, took additional humanities courses when possible, joined Mid Michigan Writers, attended several writing workshops, and so much more. Everyone should be so lucky. I am never bored. I am eternally grateful that my dad was able to find a way to make it all work and set an example for me to follow. Per usual, I’m just doing things the “hard” way. I will get there … eventually.
On Friday evening March 31st, 2023, I joined scores of others to attend “Madonna 40” at the Delta College Planetarium. A sold out show, it was incredible – and a lot of fun! Designed to honor Madonna’s 40th anniversary of her first hit single “Holiday” and her always controversial place in Bay City history, it did not disappoint. My only wish: I would have thoroughly enjoyed another hour of her classic music videos and would have gladly paid accordingly. There is nothing quite like watching the music videos that made Madonna a superstar and an inspiration to a generation of girls and women, for better or worse, on the big screen. It is an experience I will never forget. Her early music will always be a part of the soundtrack to my early childhood memories. In designing the program, the following original, unedited music videos were shown in all of their ‘80s and early ‘90s glory:
Frankly, the music video portion of the program outshone everything else. The videos have held up over nearly four decades. What struck me most in the vintage videos was Madonna herself. Definitely not model thin or “fat,” she exuded old-school glamor in “Material Girl,” “Vogue,” and “Like A Prayer” with the dance moves that made her famous. As for “Papa Don’t Preach,” she looks like any fresh-faced midwestern high school or college girl.
Personally, I felt that the organizers/designers missed a huge opportunity by not including at least the videos for both “Promise to Try” (1989), which was largely filmed at her mother’s gravesite in Kawkawlin, Michigan (just north of Bay City), and “This Used to Be My Playground” (1992), which was included on the A League of Their Own soundtrack and supposedly written about Bay City becoming her refuge after her mother’s untimely death. The only actual footage of Madonna in or near Bay City was not included in the program. How?
The next segment of the program, “Smelly Little Town,” is originally why I wanted to attend the event and even moved around my schedule to do so. Debuting as part of the Hell’s Half Mile Film and Music Festival in Bay City in 2021, I doubted I would ever have another opportunity to see it. Growing up with the controversy, knowing Bay City a little too well, and having been born in Bay City myself, I had to check it out.
First and foremost, it is quite possibly the most Bay City thing I’ve ever seen in my life. Let me just say this: It began and ended with scenes of people polka dancing at the St. Stan’s Polish festival to the Steve Drzewicki Band, both Bay City institutions. I half expected to see my ex’s parents go dancing on by. In general, the film did a decent job describing Bay City, covering all aspects of the “smelly little town” controversy with Madonna, and explaining how ever-corrupt Bay City small town politics is the answer as to why Bay City has never really been able to capitalize on the fact that it is the birthplace of Madonna.
For those who don’t know, Madonna Louise Ciccone was born at the former Mercy Hospital in Bay City, Michigan on August 16th, 1958. Madonna is her actual given name as she was named after her mother. Upon her mother’s tragic death in 1963, Madonna spent time in Bay City with her grandmother, who lived in the Banks area, then home to a nearby oil refinery (hence the “smelly little town” comment that caused such an uproar). To this day, there is very little commemorating Madonna in Bay City. Then again, this is the same city that passed on becoming home to a casino and a minor league ballpark, both of which went to nearby communities.
If something wonderful is planning on coming to Bay City, one can be sure that public outrage will ensue in some way, shape, or form. I am speaking from experience. When I moved back to Michigan with my ex, a Bay City native, in 2005, the controversy over the then new Wirt Public Library – a gorgeous new anchor for downtown Bay City – had yet to wane. While I agree it doesn’t have the history of the historic Sage Library in Bay City, people were genuinely upset over a beautiful new library downtown. I will never understand the mentality.
Then again, back in 2005, Michigan experienced a one-state recession which was about to turn into the Great Recession. 2008 is covered well in the documentary. It is rightfully called one of the darkest times in Bay City history, and frankly, I consider my life in Bay City (2005-2012) one of the darkest periods in my life as well. Yet, while Bay City is almost unrecognizable from that dark hour, there is still nothing formal honoring Madonna in the city.
As much as I wanted to see “Smelly Little Town,” I doubt it would have been half as entertaining if not for my own experiences with Bay City and my early love of Madonna’s music. In fact, much of it is forgettable. However, it did a good job highlighting the ridiculousness of the entire situation and Bay City politics. I actually understand the controversy now. A little explanation and context behind Madonna’s comments would have changed everything. In the same infamous 1985 interview with Jane Pauly, Madonna goes on to say that she has “great affection” for Bay City.
By the way, Bay City still is a “smelly little town.” In a hilarious coincidence, I happened to drive by the Michigan Sugar plant on Friday on my way to see “Madonna 40.” For those who don’t know, processing sugar beets can smell like hot garbage on a good day. Friday, as I drove by, it never smelled worse.
Clearly, Madonna’s relationship with Bay City remains complicated. I fully understand why. My love/hate relationship with Madonna – I will always love Madonna’s music, but question her methods of self-promotion – mirrors my love/hate relationship with Bay City itself. I do hope that she is commemorated in Bay City at some point. Not every small town can claim to be the birthplace of the best-selling female musical artist of all time.
By the way, if you want a quick, accurate outline of Madonna’s complex history with Bay City, the article below does a wonderful job of doing just that.